In sixth grade, Mom bought me a stick of deodorant to keep in my backpack.
I was repulsed by that stick of deodorant.
I didn’t like the smell, and I was weirded out by its solid-ish, pasty texture. A small girl, I was a late bloomer, so I’d hoped to never find cause to use it.
Truthfully, I was disturbed by the ominous advent of puberty–looming so darkly in the periphery of my experience. I was not at all comfortable with the idea of my body’s impending evolution, and I feared the start of the inevitable menses, as though it were the plague.
Nevertheless, that offensive stick of deodorant remained hidden away in the shadows of my pack. Surely, I’d never find cause to extricate it from its vinyl catacomb.
I’d joined the school chorus that academic year. We’d meet in the Music teacher’s vast cinder block classroom each Thursday morning before classes began, to prepare for the upcoming Winter Concert. While the area of the room was expansive, the chorus body was dense, and we packed our middling bodies into the space like sardines in a can. I sweltered inside the flannel lined nylon windbreaker I’d inherited from my cousin. The radiator gushed dry blasts of heat into the space, sucking away all traces of damp chill hovering around our swampy Louisiana environs. Face flushed, I could feel moisture condensing on my flesh, forming drippy little channels in the creased spaces.
The rehearsal ended, and I, along with all the other kids, poured out of the classroom in a current, peopling the wide hallway. I finagled one arm from the strap of my backpack, releasing it from the confines of its white pilled prison, then switched to extract the other arm, in kind.
Unfortunately, in freeing my body from its synthetic furnace, I also freed a billowous cloud of fetid rank. A classmate rushing past descried, “Julie forgot to wear deodorant today!”
No, Ben, I didn’t forget. In fact, until this horrific moment of sickening humiliation, I found the use of that pasty white antiperspirant far more offensive than my own pre-pubescent musk.
Of course, I shriveled into myself, finagled the jacket back round my torso, and proceeded to roast within, as I sullenly navigated the course to my classroom. I remained ensconced within my personal toaster oven for at least another hour before discreetly rummaging beneath my desk through my backpack for that vile paste stick, and with stealth, like a con on a heist, I concealed it within the deep flap pocket of baby blue nylon.
I requested to be excused to the restroom, and it was there, behind the locked formica door, that with hands rattling like castanets, I fumbled out of the jacket, extracted the objectionable commodity, and with wrinkled nose and tears seeping from the corners of my eyes, I plucked off the cap and applied the compound, reluctantly, to the extra stale flesh of my pits.
I was humiliated by my own funk, but I was equally repelled by the full bodied bouquet of glutinous talc, in addition to its accompanying gooey chill as I dabbed it, meagerly, into the offending bits of my adolescent anatomy.
Relieved, I raised my arms and sniffed the area to find the space did not require generous application, in order to eradicate the egregious reek which formerly emanated from my hairless pits.
I sighed. The dab was sufficient, the odor concealed, and although the skin retained a trivial gummy residue, I resigned myself to tolerance. My taxed tactile perception was the cost I’d pay to avert social disaster.
Such is the life of a sensory avoidant child on the spectrum, who for years, suffered insult and injury because of her quirks. Because I’d been ridiculed by my family and friends–for years–about my sensory avoidant tendencies, I felt no safety communicating my disgust of anti-perspirant to those who’d furnished it for me.
From my adult perspective, I can see how such humiliating experiences could be avoided, if the sensory avoidant human felt at liberty to share why and how certain smells and textures are offensive. My parents and I could have worked together to find a deodorant that worked for me, as opposed to against me. Of course, this was the 90s, and Asperger’s had not even been acknowledged by the DSM at this point, let alone any sort of acknowledgement that there may be this thing called an Autism Spectrum. For this reason, I cannot fault my family, but I do share my story to intervene for others. Because the reality is that many undiagnosed spectrumites are walking around the world–burdened by shame–and many unaware adults are torturing their kids with the unreasonable and clearly objectionable impulse to force conformity to a neurotypical world.
Such neurotypical world bleeds in black and white, but we neurodivergent humans are considered a spectrum for good cause. There is middle ground. We can learn to make use of offensive hygienic commodities by finding those least offensive to our tastes, but our neurotypical friends and family should meet us halfway by advocating for us, instead of against us–forcing us to suppress our legitimate concerns and discomfort for the sake of their own.
I am willing to ward off my bodily musk. Are you willing to ward off your contempt of my peculiar tastes or aversions?